Stretford named one of the coolest “neighbourhoods to invest in now”

The Sunday Times have released a list of "the areas hipsters are flocking to" in the UK...

Gentrification.

Most people consider it to be a dirty word. An indication that money is about to come into an area and price out the locals and put the cost of a pint up by (at least) 2 quid.

And to be fair, some of the time gentrification is indeed a dirty word, and we’ve seen a long list of former working-class areas throughout the UK (mostly in London) become completely transformed over the past decade or so – and people are not happy about it.

Residents in Hackney last week (Polly Hancock/Hackney Gazette)

Most recently, residents in Hackney have taken to the streets to fight back against the gentrification of the area – complaining that promises by developers have not created new jobs, attracted visitors or helped the area very much.

There’s a feeling that people “don’t feel ‘at home’ in Hackney anymore“, as it has become an establishment for the rich – ignoring the people who live there.

But what about Manchester?

New Islington has seen massive investment in recent years

Well, there’s always the example of Didsbury and Chorlton, but weren’t they always a little bit on the middle class side anyway? What there’s Ancoats – from one of the roughest areas in the city centre to now the 20th ‘Coolest Neighbourhood in the World’?

One could say that Prestwich has seen an influx of gentrification over the years, and even concerns have been raised about areas of Salford, and even Rochdale and Oldham, which as someone who grew up there – beggars belief.

If there’s set to be ANY form of new developments in Oldham, then I must say – that isn’t gentrification – it’s just a much-needed improvement to an area that has been criminally underfunded and ignored for much of the last 40 years. I’d see the use of the word ‘gentrification’ as merely an excuse to resist change.

The proposed regeneration of Oldham Town Centre has sparked arguments about gentrification of the area.

Sure, you can get a pint of lager in Oldham for about £2 in the Ashton Arms, but the town centre is effectively dead – filled with bookies, charity shops and pound shops, and the main ‘going out’ area on Yorkshire Street hasn’t seen a good time in many a year.

If towns like Oldham don’t embrace new developments, markets, businesses and housing – they’re just going to disappear even further into obscurity – with the vast majority of youngsters upping sticks as soon as they can for the better opportunities in the ‘big city’ a mere 7 miles away.

Oldham’s Alexandra Park is set to become the UK’s largest Urban Farm & Eco-park

Another suburb, and this is the one that I actually live in now, is Stretford – which was named one of the ‘six coolest neighbourhoods to invest in now’ by The Sunday Times this weekend, an area that they say “hipsters are flocking to.”

I wouldn’t say that ‘hipsters’ are flocking to Stretford, but there’s set to be some serious investment in the area, which is long overdue, thanks to Bruntwood Works and Trafford Council’s multi-million pound masterplan to transform Stretford Mall and the surrounding area.

The Mall, or Arndale as it was known for years, is now essentially not fit for purpose – being only around 20% occupied. So Bruntwood and the Council plan to completely renovate the area – re-introducing the historic King Street high street, adding green space, improved transport links and reconfiguring the town centre with better connections to the Bridgewater Canal.

It includes five new neighbourhoods, including repurposing the Lacy Street area down the side of the canal into a residential and leisure destination, bringing “people into Stretford from the wider area.”

Proposed plans for Stretford’s King Street

The Sunday Times notes how the arrival of Manchester’s “coolest corner shop”, Stretford Foodhall has helped change the perception of the area considerably.

And with the much needed ‘revamp’ of Stretford Mall – the area is both desirable and affordable – “attractive to first-time buyers and young families, who also like the six Ofsted-outstanding primary schools.”

Is this the beginning of the ‘gentrification’ of Stretford? Well, yes and no. Again, this is an area of Manchester that experienced a considerable economic downturn a few decades back, primarily with the opening of the Trafford Centre in the late 90s, effectively making the Stretford Arndale redundant and shifting people away from the local community.

Pubs have been demolished (O’Brien’s) or have been left rotting for years (The Robin Hood), and cultural heritage sites like the Essoldo Cinema are left criminally unused. If it wasn’t for a team of local residents – the Public Hall would be in a sorry state today too.

The Stretford Public Hall – saved by the local community

But in the last couple of years there’s been an influx of new venues into the area, primarily in and around the Mall, including The Hive, HEAD, Longford Tap and just further down the road, the excellent BrewChimp and Indian Social Club. All could be considered by some to be the result of the continuing ‘gentrification’ of the area.

There are, as is always the case when it comes to new housing developments, questions that revolve around affordable housing, and whether the development by Bruntwood will actually provide the kick up the arse that Stretford needs. It hasn’t worked as they’d hoped in Hackney, so why would it here?

BrewChimp in Stretford

Well, this is where local residents and those in the community come in, stakeholders who should continue to be vocal, attend public consultations on the project and hold Bruntwood and the Council to their promises of more jobs, and a thriving Stretford community once again.

The simplest fact of the matter is though that as Manchester’s city centre boundaries continue to grow, these ‘forgotten’ suburbs are going to experience a big upturn in attention and development. Gorton, Reddish, Levenshulme, Urmston, Monton, even Moss Side and Whalley Range – have and will continue to see discussions raised about gentrification of the area.

Urmston’s upcoming Market41 development

What’s best – say no and continue to decline and be forgotten, or accept the wheels of change, but as a community recognise that this ‘gentrification’ offers more opportunities than it does challenges? It’s the responsibility of local communities to help developers and shape the way that this inevitable renovation is going to happen – otherwise it’s all for nothing.

I for one think that Stretford will benefit from this new development and regeneration – but then again you could say that I’m only saying that because I own a house there.

One of the reasons behind moving into the area though, and becoming an active part of the local community, investing my time, expertise and contacts into Stretford endeavours is that I know that the area is going to only get better – and it’s exciting to be part of that.

The whole issue of gentrification is, as is always the case with these things, massively complex and something that I can’t tackle in one article alone. Yes, I understand that all over the world people are being forced and priced out of their homes by it, and the issue is certainly not going to go away in Manchester any time soon.

Activists in Chicago

I hate the fact that The Sunday Times insist that “hipsters are flocking to” Stretford – it’s merely a lazy catch-all term from a newspaper which should know better really. Also, the fact that the article refers to neighbourhoods “to invest in now” – doesn’t really help – encouraging faceless investors who will look to merely buy up property and not become actively involved in the local area.

If you want to read about the other 5 areas in the UK – the link to the (paywalled) article is below…

Six Cool Neighbourhoods to Invest in Now

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